By: Jes­sica Roy

When it comes to social media, there’s a dif­fer­ence between a fan and a brand advo­cate. Unfor­tu­nately, a Page “Like” does not always yield a loyal brand advocate.

Because social media allows for such a low bar­rier to entry, Face­book fans can be far more casual about their alle­giance to a brand. They may have liked the Page on a whim and then for­got­ten about it; they may post neg­a­tive feed­back on your Wall or rarely engage with post con­tent. In con­trast, brand advo­cates are the rec­og­niz­able stars of your com­mu­nity. They take time and effort to respond to your engage­ment ques­tions, fre­quently inter­act with other fans and defend your brand against neg­a­tive feed­back. Most impor­tantly, a brand advo­cate is a per­son who talks pos­i­tively about a brand or prod­uct, and then passes on the pos­i­tive word-of-mouth mes­sages about the brand to other people.

Social media is a per­fect avenue to nur­ture the brand advo­cates in your com­mu­nity and help their enthu­si­asm to spread. The goal is to have a lively, pos­i­tive com­mu­nity com­prised not just of fans, but of as many brand advo­cates is pos­si­ble. Here are a few sim­ple steps to rec­og­nize and cul­ti­vate the brand advo­cates in your community.

1. Con­tent is (as always) king.
When build­ing out your edi­to­r­ial cal­en­dar, think about includ­ing a vari­ety of posts that can gen­er­ate dif­fer­ent kinds of con­ver­sa­tions. Don’t just include links to your blog or adver­tise­ments for a cer­tain prod­uct. Mix in spe­cial offers with pointed engage­ment ques­tions (e.g. have any­thing fun planned for this week­end?). Remem­ber that a com­mu­nity is truly suc­cess­ful when users engage in organic con­ver­sa­tion with each other over top­ics not specif­i­cally related to your brand. It might make you feel a lit­tle left out at first, but allow­ing users to feel com­fort­able talk­ing to each other about a host of sub­jects in your com­mu­nity is key to devel­op­ing rela­tion­ships both with your fans and between fans.

2. Embrace two-way dia­logue.
Con­ver­sa­tion is a two-way street. Actively respond to your com­mu­nity mem­bers by answer­ing their ques­tions and encour­ag­ing them to expand on their thoughts. By allow­ing your page to be a key space for dia­logue between you and your fans, you human­ize your brand and incen­tivize users to inter­act with it fur­ther.

3. Reward these brand advo­cates.
Now that you’ve fig­ured out your top brand talk­ers, it’s impor­tant to reward them for their efforts. This will endear your top users to you, and will also incen­tivize other fans to become advo­cates. Rewards can be as sim­ple as rec­og­niz­ing a fan’s con­tri­bu­tions in a sta­tus update or send­ing them a free gift card.

4. Let them police them­selves.
If a prob­lem user begins to post neg­a­tive com­ments on your Wall, step back and let the brand advo­cates han­dle it. Instead of charg­ing in to respond or delete their com­ment, give the brand talk­ers some space to defend your brand. Often times let­ting a power user set an unwieldy fan straight can be just as potent a solu­tion as respond­ing yourself.